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The Report, or, Whatever Happened to Third World Feminist Theory?

General Programming

dateApril 13, 2023 timeThursday, 5:00pm–6:30pm EDT location Fayerweather Hall, Room 411, Columbia University
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
  • Columbia Research Initiative on the Global History of Sexualities
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • First come, first seated

This talk offers a genealogy of the “status of women reports" produced across the decolonizing world. Durba Mitra reflects on the epistemological and ethical dilemmas of the rise of the policy report, which has functioned as the primary mode of research on gender and minoritized sexualities in the multinational knowledge industry of the UN, governmental agencies, and NGOs since the 1970s. This new political economy of women and gender was built on biologically determinist notions of sexual difference based in fields like demography and population studies. Even as they claimed to represent the rights of women and LGBTQ people, these reports often obscured political questions of caste, class, and racial domination.

In rethinking the history of the report, Durba Mitra raises two methodological questions for the history of sexuality: how does a truly global historiography of sexuality engage the endless archives of international policy reports? What forms of knowledge have been lost as decades of intellectual energy and material resources have been devoted to the report?


Durba Mitra is the Richard B. Wolf Associate Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University and Acting Faculty Director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Her book, Indian Sex Life: Sexuality and the Colonial Origins of Modern Social Thought (Princeton University Press, 2020), demonstrates how ideas of deviant female sexuality became foundational to modern social thought.